Frugal Tuesdays: entertainment on a shoestring & 50+ fave books, movies & tv series


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Joseph & I are theater people.

We were both drama geeks in high school & one of my minors in undergrad was theater studies. One of my dream jobs would be something theater related–acting of course, but set design, makeup, costuming, script writing also intrigue me. I love watching it, being a part of it. It’s just exciting to me.

When we lived in Utah, though tight as money was, we always made room for attending plays & concerts. Between the two universities, & several theater companies, there was always plenty of affordable shows to attend. Even though San Antonio is a metropolis, I’ve found it wanting in the theater/performing arts arena (at least in our current budget range). Yes, there’s the symphony (we were able to get discount tickets to three performances this season), & various choral groups, a theater downtown. But it’s not as accessible (always such a drive), or affordable on our get-out-of-debt budget.

So we’ve become creative in ways to explore entertainment on a budget. Here’s some of what we do.


A few ways you can save money, while filling your brain with good stuff. 


♦ colleges, universities, high schools

Attend performances at your local community college, university, or even high school. These performances tend to be subsidized with discounts given to students, seniors, kids, etc. Also, if there’s an option for season tickets, you can usually get an even deeper discount (but of course, you have to factor in babysitting costs if you have kids).


♦ free community events

Check out your local NPR website’s community calender. They feature cultural events in the area, many of which are free to the public.

Supporting the arts is something I feel passionate about. Once we’re out of debt, I hope to be able to allocate more money towards attending performances that are currently out of reach for us. Concerts, plays, and other cultural productions cost a lot of money, take time and talent to put together. I think these efforts need to be supported for so many reasons, & I’ll gladly support with my money.


♦ free DVD rentals at the library

Check out your local library for free dvd rentals. Just make sure you’re clear on late fines. Our library charges $3 per day for late items. One time I had 5 dvds that were 4 days late because I thought I had renewed the items, & had my dates confused–ouch!

We use clearplay to watch many movies. I highly recommend it, especially for families.

Some fave library picks (by no means exhaustive):

Tess of the D’ubervilles, 2008 BBC series
Such a lovely take on Thomas Hardy’s tragic, classic novel. I really, really just loved this dvd set.

Citizen Kane
Considered to be one of the greatest films of all time by critics, this is the premise by which all great films follow. Love the infamous last scene: “Rosebud…”

Dan in Real Life
Easily one of my top movies. Steve Carell & Juliette Binoche have wonderful chemistry & I love how it’s a simple story about real people, family, love, & raising daughters.
(My favorite line: “you’re a murderer of love!!”)

Dances with Wolves & Robin Hood (both with Kevin Costner)
The two movies where Kevin Costner shows his talent (unlike Waterworld, say). I love to feel like I’m traveling back in time when I watch movies, & both do these for me.

As Good as It Gets
I could watch this movie over & over again. Jack Nicholson’s character development over the course of the movie, & his interactions with Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, & Cuba Gooding Jr. make the movie.

Hotel Rwanda & Blood Diamond
Both movies opened my eyes to the turmoil that goes on in so much of Africa. Had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude after watching.

You’ve Got Mail
Written by Nora Ephron, played by Meg Ryan & Tom Hanks. These two were a match made in heaven.

Walk the Line
A look into the life of the great Johnny Cash. Outstanding performances by both Joaquin Phoenix & Reese Witherspoon.
(Also, you might like this youtube video of the actual Johnny Cash doing a cover for Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt”–57 million views!)

A tragedy in every sense of the word. Russel Crowe is stellar (when isn’t he?). Tragic, sweeping, pulls at your heart strings.

A Beautiful Mind
Really, a love story.

Shawshank Redemption
A movie about hope.

Slumdog Millionare
Blew my mind.

Heartwarming & touching, in a way only a movie made in 1955 can.

Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939 version)
An amazing performance by Charles Laughton.

Confessions of a Shopaholic
Light hearted, funny, yet cuts to the heart of consumerism.

Will Ferrel is hilarious, but in so many of his movies, he’s just plain raunchy. Elf, though a Christmas movie, is just plain cute & funny.

Last of the Mohicans
The music score alone makes this a movie worth watching. A period piece that transcends.

A River Runs Through It & Legends of the Fall
Two of Brad Pitt’s finest.

Stranger than Fiction
Another Will Ferrel movie. Not quite laugh out loud funny, but I found myself laughing throughout this lovely character-driven film.

The Three Amigos
Chevy Chase, Martin Short, Steve Martin–classic. What more can I say?

500 days of Summer 
A movie about love that doesn’t work out that is deeply touching, raw. It will reasonate with anyone who has ever been dumped.

An ode to the great Meryl Streep
She is undoubtedly one of the most talented & accomplished actresses ever, in Hollywood. My faves: The Devil Wears Prada, Iron Lady, Doubt, Out of Africa, & Bridges of Madison County.

La Vie en Rose
Marion Cotillard absolutely deserved the Ocscar she won for this performance as Edith Piaf. As a French film, it took about the 30 minutes to get into the perspective of foreign films (which aren’t really like traditional Hollywood at all)–once I got past that, I became entranced.

Dr. Zhivago
Fits into the category of old, epic movies–after watching I kissed the blessed American soil I walk on.

Schindler’s List
I’ve only seen the “edited” version of this–I couldn’t imagine I would be able to bear it otherwise. One of those movies that makes you believe in humanity, despite the evil that exists in the world.

Life is Beautiful
Fits in the same category as Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List–rising above tragedy & being able to see the good despite horrific circumstances.

Rabbit Hole
As a mother, especially hard to watch, but also deeply touching & thought provoking. Nicole Kidman does an excellent job.

The Batman trilogy
I admit, the second film, Dark Knight, was a bit too dark for my taste, but I love Christopher Nolan’s cinematography & style. Also, can I say I’ve had a crush on Christian Bale since Little Women?

The Bourne trilogy
I’m also quite partial to Matt Damon–just a clean cut, all-American kinda guy. The Bourne movies are action packed (without cars blowing up just for the sake of blowing up), smart, & of course, there’s Matt Damon.

The King’s Speech
Colin Firth & Helena Bonham Carter rock this movie. (I also love Colin in the BBC’s Pride & Prejudice.)

For the KIDS:

My kids have loved…

Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson
High School Musical
The Music Man (with Matthew Broderick)
Fiddler on the Roof


♦ hulu, netflix, youtube

We’ve never had cable. In the last few years since the inception of Hulu, we’ve had a subscription so we can watch the latest TV shows. We also have had a Netflix account at random times. Both are great options for online streaming & viewing of tv shows & movies. Neither offers everything, but then again, what service does? For $10 a month or less, you can subscribe to either one have & have hundreds of options.


a few hulu suggestions:

Parenthood (you can watch prior seasons on netflix)
One of the only series I know of that sheds light on what family life is really like, without being sappy, overly dramatic, comical or cynical. I’m pretty sure I cry at least once during each episode.

Cosby Show
I really appreciate the humor in this show now that I have kids of my own. Bill Cosby is classically hilarious. (And the 80’s hair-dos & outfits have entertainment value just on their own!)


a few netflix suggestions: 

Call the Midwife
A fascinating dive into history, culuture, & woman’s issues/rights.

Sherlock, the BBC version
Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes is so good in this role & he has a delightful bantering relationship with Watson, played by Martin Freeman (from the Hobbit movie). I cannot wait for season 3. Sadly, only 3 episodes per season, but each episode is more like a movie–about 90 minutes or so in length.

Gilmore Girls (only available on DVD)
One of the most clever dialogue & heartfelt series I’ve watched; Joseph & I watched all 7 seasons together.

Friday Night Lights
Yes, it’s about football (of which I have little interest), but really it’s about relationships & all of the issues that arise from growing up; love the characters, love the writing, love the grainy/raw way they shoot the episodes.
(season 1 & 3 might be my faves)

The Office
Especially the first few seasons. Funny, yet understated on a level that most comedies just don’t take you. Some of the more “adult” humor (ie. sex humor) I don’t appreciate, but other than that, Joseph & I can watch re-runs together & just laugh.

This was one of my favorite shows as a kid–Saturday nights, openfaced tuna & grilled cheese sandwiches made by dad, watching MacGyver with my little brother Nate. It’s a throwback to the eighties, clever (that Macgyver can do anything!), & rather clean/family friendly. We’ve watched a few episodes with the boys & they loved it.



I have to be honest, I don’t spend much time on youtube. But it can be a great (free) resource for entertainment (or you could waste hours getting sucked into watching cute cat videos). Joseph & I like watching clips from StudioC (I’ve mentioned them before–a family-friendly version of SNL sketches, funny/clever) & the TED talk channel is also a good one.


♦ books! 

Books are entertainment, the best kind, in my opinion.

Joseph & I like to go to Barnes & Noble and torture ourselves with all the pretty, new books we’d like to have, but the truth is, most of these same books are available through our library (which lucky for us, is huge!).

If you’re short on time to actually sit down & read, you may want to check out A monthly subscription starts at $14.99 which gives you one book a month to download. I’ve listened to many books this way & love that I can exercise, clean, or cook dinner while listening to the latest titles. You can try a 30-day subscription for free (& choose a free audiobook), HERE.

Here are a few of my faves (some I own, some I’ve checked out from the library):

{side note: I’m more into reading as education/leisure, not just pure entertainment, so some on this list aren’t “easy” reads, but have opened my eyes, deepened my understanding/compassion, & at the same time are beautifully written}

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
The opening lines had me: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Admitedly, not an easy read and spoiler alert(!)– not a happy ending. But opened my mind to the complexities of relationships, the power of choice and consequences, and how even our thoughts can eventually lead to disastrous outcomes.

I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron
I just love this woman. She “gets” it. She understands what it’s like to be a woman. Every woman, & every man who wants to understand women, needs to read this.

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchel
A sweeping historical piece that I could not put down. There’s a reason it’s an enduring classic.

any poetry collection by Billy Collins
One of the few poets that writes stuff I actually want to read (I admit, I’m sometimes to practical too “get” or appreciate poetry)

Gilead, by Marilyn Robinson
About fathers and sons. Reading her writing is soothing to me.

Broken, by Karin Fossum
Her writing is clean, crisp, & focused. The plot is simple, but the main character is what guides this pyschological thriller.

So many books by John GrishamThe Pelican Brief, The Partner, A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Associate
Also, many were made into movies & most I recommend. The Rainmaker (love Matt Damon as the main character), Runaway Jury, & The Pelican Brief are all great.


♦ podcasts

Podcasts are a relatively new form of media, but I think they’re here to stay. Similar to blogs, the number of podcasts out there seems to be infinite. Here are a few (all free), that I think are worth the listen. I mostly listen when cleaning, cooking, walking/exercising.

NPR’s Planet Money
I don’t know why exactly, but this is one of my favorite podcasts. They bring together rather boring economic topics, but infuse it with a good deal of current relevant-ness that is just fascinating.

The Moth
Real people, telling real, interesting/funny/sad, raw & unfiltered stories. We used to attend the Timpanogas Storytelling festival each year when we lived in Utah, this is the next best thing & it’s available year round. Note though, that some of the selections are profanity laced. iTunes does a relatively good job of labeling these episodes as “explicit.”

This American Life
Like Planet Money, this airs on the radio, but you can subscribe to the podcast & download episodes to listen to anytime. The episode topics are varied, though the format tends to be the same–one, or two or three “acts.”

If you’ve never listened, I suggest you start with these:

Dr. Gilmer & Mr. Hyde (you will not believe this story!)
Fear of Sleep — funny & interesting
20 acts in 60 minutes–the perfect episode for an ADD brain

Food for Thought, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
A vegan-themed podcast that is not angry. So many good episodes (I recommend them all!). I’ve learned so much from this articulate, thoughtful woman.

TedRadio Hour
Guy Rozz does a themed round-up of some of the most interesting & thought evoking TED talks. Ultimate brain candy!


♦ magazines

I think have one or two magazine subscriptions is important–1) it’s always fun to get something in the mail. 2) reading different forms of print–not just online stuff, or books–is important. 3) if you have children, it’s good for them to be exposed to all sorts of print & see you reading them.

I have a few subscriptions that I got at deep discount through my credit card rewards program. The ones I don’t subscribe to, I check out at the library.

The New Yorker
Very artsy, which is why I love it. Good brain food.

Reader’s Digest
Sort of the USA Today equivalent of magazines–easily digestible with lots of fun/engaging reads & facts.

Good Housekeeping
A woman’s mag that isn’t all about sex. I find it useful & practical.

Better Homes & Gardens
I’ve been reading this magazine since I was 7 or 8. Seriously. In my next life, I’m going to be an interior decorator (&  journalist, artist, singer/dancer…).

Highlights for Children
This is for the kids. My grandma gave us a subscription to Highlights every Christmas, so I grew up reading “Goofus & Gallent” & loved finding the hidden pictures.

National Geographic
A magazine that brings the world to your home. A blend of geography, anthropology, & science.

Yoga Journal & Vegetarian Times
An excellent resource for all things yoga, vegetarian.

What’s on your fave list for books, magazines, movies, tv shows, podcasts?

How do you save on entertainment? 

Coming up on tomorrow’s post: a sweet & spicy pecan & pear salad, or what I ate yesterday for lunch.


  1. lfwfv
    on November 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm said:

    I love this list…definitely bookmarking! You share a lot of the same tastes as us in terms of entertainment. I have not really jumped on the whole “podcast” bandwagon, but you have certainly whet my appetite. We also loved watching Malcolm in the Middle on Netflix, and Parks and Recreation (very similar to The Office). White Collar was good too (watched that with my husband while nursing my newborn for hours on end each evening…good memories :)).

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  4. Melanie
    on October 31, 2013 at 8:21 am said:

    Great list, Janae!

    Another place to get entertainment relatively cheap is Amazon Prime. It’s about $75ish per year for access to thousands of shows and movies. Plus you get free 2 day shipping for your Amazon orders. 😉 (Which is really helpful for this girl!)

  5. Bex @ Vegan Sparkles
    on October 31, 2013 at 7:15 am said:

    Love this! What a great post.
    Blood Diamond, Slumdog Millionaire & Gone with the Wind are huge favourites of mine too. x

    • Janae Wise
      on October 31, 2013 at 7:43 am said:

      Blood Diamond & Slumdog Millionare really put things into perspective for me. And Gone With the Wind–both the book & the movie are spectacular.

  6. Emma
    on October 29, 2013 at 3:25 pm said:

    This is such a great resource Janae! I’ve been loving my local library recently- and was excited so see a few vegan cookbooks on the shelves as well 🙂
    I love Colleen’s podcast too and have worked my way through the archives right back to the first episode.

    • Janae Wise
      on October 29, 2013 at 4:06 pm said:

      I can’t believe how many vegan cookbooks there are out there. My library is huge, so it carries pretty much everything. I think there are at least 50 vegetarian/vegan cookbooks at the branch I go to.

      Colleen has such a great way of putting things, doesn’t she?

  7. Mercedes White
    on October 29, 2013 at 1:41 pm said:

    thanks for all those awesome suggestions! i am going to check out that food for thought podcast–sounds really interesting.

    if you like BBC i have two “mystery” genre suggestions for you: Broadchurch and Top of the Lake. Both involve crimes against children–so just to warn you the subject matter is a bit heavy–but the stories are complex and really beautifully told. I know Top of the Lake is on Netflix and think Broadchurch is available through the BBC America website.

    Mike and I also just watched the TV series Freaks and Geeks on Netflix which I didn’t have super high expectations for but ended up just loving. The characters are really charming and the writing is good.

    Nashville is THE best. i don’t even like country music and i am GAGA over this show!

    • Janae Wise
      on October 29, 2013 at 2:38 pm said:

      Thanks for the suggestions–I will check them out!

      Joseph & I were talking about how British tv shows tend to have better acting, as in “actors,” as opposed to “movie stars” who can often be all glitz & little substance In Hollywood, many times it’s about “being a star” rather than actual talent (I could ramble off quite a list, starting with Jennifer Lopez…). Anyway, we so enjoy many of the BBC programs we’ve checked out–much more down to earth & the acting tends to be superb. The only show I preferred American over British was The Office. I had such a hard time understanding the accents of the British version, not to mention I didn’t always get the humor.

      I remember Freaks & Geeks but never got into it. It kinda reminded me of the Wonder Years, which it’s been ages, but if I went back to watching that show, I think I’d probably like it (though some shows are best left in the memory).

      About Nashville–right?! The songs are sooo good. You just can’t help but root for each one, even the nasty/mean ones.

  8. April
    on October 29, 2013 at 11:57 am said:

    I just started using our library for DVDs. Prior to a few months ago it was a $1 per movie for 3 days w/ no renewals! No way I would be able to stick to that (ie, they’d be LATE often!). But they recently changed their rules and you get the movies for free for a week-sometimes with one or 2 renewals. We’re able to borrow from other libraries too so 3 times out of 4 I’m able to get a movie I wanted to watch for free-as long as I’m willing to be patient. I’ve also been pleased at the quality-these DVDs skip and freeze so much less than rental dvds. Love it!

    • Janae Wise
      on October 29, 2013 at 1:23 pm said:

      I think I remember you mentioning your library charging for rentals–that’s the first I’ve heard of such a thing! Glad they changed it (otherwise, why not just go to red box?). We have a huge library, so pretty much any movie is available, but of course, the new releases aren’t always there or we have to wait. But patience never hurt anyone 😉

  9. Brenna
    on October 29, 2013 at 11:53 am said:

    Love your movie list! Have you ever watched “Cinderella Man”? Russell Crow plays a down on his luck boxer, struggling to provide for his family during the Depression. Amazing movie!

    • Janae Wise
      on October 29, 2013 at 1:21 pm said:

      Yes! We love that movie. Russel Crowe is a phenomenal actor. He’s one of my faves 😉